1 month ago, we participated in the Tri-Factor Series Triathlon (1.5km swim, 36km cycle, 10km run) at East Coast Park. Like many other first-timers, we were anxious about our first foray into the triathlon world and did not know what to expect. The thought of completing 3 consecutive sporting disciplines was daunting and exciting at the same time.
Here is a short post containing the 5 things you should know before taking part in your first triathlon.
1. Race Gear
Similar to most other sports or sporting disciplines, you should never be concerned about having the best gear. In fact, you will probably do just fine with the gear you already have at home. Here’s a list of the equipment that you will need for your first triathlon:
- Bicycle – any bicycle is all right; while a race/road bike will give you a significant rolling speed advantage over any other bicycle, they are not necessary for the purposes of completing the race
- Running shoes – marathon/racing shoes are not necessary; just use the running shoes that you have
- Swimming trunks/swimsuit – no need for specialised full-body suits; just use the regular swimwear that you have
- Swimming goggles – use anti-fog solution or anti-fog inserts to keep your vision clear
- Race bib holder – instead of using safety pins to fasten the bib to your shirt, purchase one of these from decathlon (https://tinyurl.com/racebeltdecathlon)
- Sunscreen/sunblock – a triathlon lasts well into the late morning and it is mandatory to have adequate sun protection.
- Nutrition – see below.
Although having specialised or professional gear is not necessary, having functional race gear is mandatory. By functional, we mean that the gear should hold up well under all conditions even when pushed to the limits (e.g. weak brakes, leaky goggles, heavily-worn shoes are a strict no-no).
Also, you need to train with your gear and know your gear well. Take cycling for example – you should bring your bicycle on extended rides and be familiar with your bicycle’s performance limits on different road surfaces and inclines. Things like stopping distance, cruising gear, and safe cornering speed should all be known to you.
Training for a triathlon is not rocket science, but it is no simple feat either. It involves not just training for the different disciplines separately, but also conditioning your body for the transition shock that would inevitably take place between the various segments. Your body will be significantly more fatigued than usual because of the interruption to its momentum and rhythm – hence, the only realistic way to train for it is to do all three sports back-to-back regularly. Basically, a triathlon should not be seen as a mere addition of 3 disciplines, but rather as a whole new sport on its own.
First-time triathletes like us are typically most daunted by the open-water swim. This is exacerbated by the fact that Singapore’s waters are certainly not amongst the most “swimmable”– terrible visibility, strong currents, and rocky beaches make for a swimmer’s nightmare.
Thus, it is important to find space. Although it may be especially tempting to swim close to the guide rope or turn the corners at the closest point, most other swimmers would also be fighting to do the same. No point shortening the distance travelled if you’re going to jostle around with other swimmers for 40 minutes – trust us, it is a stressful experience. Also, the likelihood of receiving a direct breaststroke kick to the face can be incredibly high at the choke points. It would thus be prudent to position yourself slightly offset to the swimming lane and take a slightly wider turn in return for a smoother swimming experience.
Some Open Water Swim Tips:
• If you swim freestyle during the race, it would be necessary to “sight” (lift your head and glance forward) to ensure that you are on the correct heading.
• Don’t bother trying to follow the lane rope as it is unlikely that you can see it in murky waters.
• Set your sights on the next buoy and make small corrections each time you sight. Going straight can be quite difficult and takes time to get used to.
• Don’t blindly follow other swimmers – it is likely that most of them are having difficulty maintaining heading as well.
The physical demands of a triathlon can be rather extreme, especially if you rarely take part in endurance races that span at least 3 hours. Having the right amount of nutrition can thus make a lot of difference to your race performance.
a) Pack em’ Energy Gels and Bars
What appears to be supplementary nutrition can actually be a reliable source of energy in the later stages of the triathlon. Ensure that you put them somewhere accessible such that you can reach for them easily during the race. In our case, we brought some soy protein bars to chew on during the bike/run segments, but these were very dry. Energy gels would have been better. Thankfully, these were provided by the race organiser in the 3rd water station of the 10km run.
b) Don’t Skip Breakfast!
The first dosage of nutrients before the triathlon should come from a light breakfast – be it a banana, bread or anything that gives you some energy to tide through the swim segment. This meal should be best consumed at least 45 minutes to an hour before your race to give sufficient time for digestion. Once you enter the water, your next chance of replenishment would be during the bike segment, which is probably about 30-45 minutes after.
c) Hydrate Well, Hydrate Smart
Keeping yourself well-hydrated is critical. The only chances of doing so are during the bike and run segment (not counting the mouthfuls of sea water you will inevitably swallow). Squeeze bottles or water bags (with feeding tubes) are the best options for the bike segment, as they allow you to hydrate with a single hand. One problem Yip faced during the bike segment was the inaccessibility of his water bottle (he had to unscrew the cap with 2 hands), which caused him to delay his hydration till the run segment. This was not ideal as he was rather dehydrated when he started his run. Don’t let that happen to you!
A triathlon is intimidating, but not impossible. Most of you who have read till this point would probably be able to swim, cycle and run already, and these skills are really all you need to complete a full triathlon.
In fact, you don’t have to start out with the standard distance as there are shorter “sprint” or “novice” variants which are much more palatable. You can also sign up together with a friend who’s aching to get out there and shed some calories after couching for too long. Get your loved ones and friends to cheer you on and hold you accountable to the training that you should commit to before the race.
The only barrier that can possibly exist is the mental one that you created for yourself.
Now go out there and DO IT! You will be surprised by how much you can accomplish 😊